Tata Projects, the infrastructure and construction arm of the Tata Group, recently bagged the contract to build the ambitious Noida International Airport (NIA) project. Spread over 1300 acres, the Rs 9,000-crore greenfield project is being developed under public-private partnership between the Uttar Pradesh government and Zurich Airport. Phase 1 of the project is expected to be commissioned by September 2024. Once completed, NIA would be the country’s largest airport, both in terms of passengers and air cargo traffic and is said to transform the supply chain landscape of the region. Christoph Schnellmann, chief executive officer, Yamuna International Airport, the entity set up to manage and run Noida Airport, spoke to Deepa Jainani on the project. Excerpts:
You have awarded the EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contract to Tata Projects. Where do things stand now and what is timeline for the project?
Award of the EPC contract is an important project milestone after securing financial closure last year and receiving access to the land. With this, we now move into the next phase of the project and over the next few months, we’ll see thousands of men and machines transform the landscape around Jewar. The project implementation needs to be closely managed over the next three years.
As far as construction activities go, there are two key elements that we would focus on: to build the organisation to increase the workforce and be ready to operate Noida airport and to secure key partnerships that we will require to operate the airport. Partnerships are required with airport hotel operators, ground handlers, plane service providers. The partner needs to develop over 80 acres of space for cargo, air cargo and logistics infrastructure at the airport.
What are your plans for expansion?
We will deliver an airport and infrastructure for 12 million passengers in phase 1 by 2024. That’s a single runway and an airport terminal that will cater to up to 12 million passengers per annum and of course all the ancillary facilities that are required in terms of parking positions, taxi, utilities etc.
Further expansion will be triggered in a modular fashion. We’ve designed our airport terminal to expand from 12 million to 30 million passenger capacity. We can basically build a mirror copy of the existing terminal, attached directly to it, which will expand the overall capacity in the terminal to 30 million passengers and we will trigger that whenever we see 80% of this 12 million capacity being used. So the moment we start having 9.6 million to ten million passengers, we will trigger the next expansion phase.
And with that, we’ll see the expansion of the parking positions on the apron. We’ll also see expansion of road capacity on the site, in line with that growth.
Covid has dealt a huge blow on the aviation industry. Do you see flyers coming back in time once Jewar is ready?
I think traffic is back to 2019 levels. So, the demand is there. The demand for additional infrastructure for airports is there as well. The penetration of air traffic in India is still much smaller than in comparable markets, countries with large domestic markets with big distances to cover. Overall, in the NCR, we expect the number of travellers to triple from roughly 70 million in 2019 to over 200 million in the next 40 years.
The NIA is scouting for a partner to create its warehousing and logistics facilities. Tell us more about this.
We have floated an RFP and are in contact with a number of partners. There’s a great deal of interest in developing the air cargo and logistics infrastructure at NIA. It is just a reflection of the strong growth that we’ve seen in the air cargo space throughout the past two decades and certainly through the past few years during the times of the pandemic. We look forward to seeing the economic development in and around Noida, Greater Noida and we see the investments in manufacturing facilities and other businesses coming to the region.
We also see the strong agricultural heartland in Uttar Pradesh and we are well-positioned to service this large and growing market in terms of logistics, warehousing and of course air cargo.
By when should we expect these partnerships crystallise?
So, the next two partnerships that we plan to conclude will be to develop and operate an airport hotel directly adjacent to the terminal and a partner to design, build and operate with us these air cargo facilities. We expect to conclude this year.
What is the potential for the air cargo landscape in the region? How huge is this going to be?
It’s very big. The market in north India is over a million metric tonne annually and we expect over the next 30 years that this may quadruple, necessitating additional airport infrastructure as well as warehousing, distribution and storage infrastructure. We see a real opportunity here to become the cargo gateway to northern India.
How are you also trying to incentivize the airlines to fly out of Noida Airport?
We’ve been in talks with airlines since even before we submitted our bid for the project back in 2019, because it’s very important for us to understand what the airlines require, what sort of growth plans they have etc. We’ve been very deliberate about designing the airport infrastructure in a way that that meets the likely traffic needs and allows a quick turn-around times for the airlines and quick transfer times for the passengers.
What is the status of the MRO facility that is to come up in the area?
We’ve allocated almost 60 acres of land for MRO facilities and there’s a lot of interest from airlines, from component manufacturers, from engine manufacturers and the like. We’re engaged in discussions with a number of partners.
How soon do you think this is going to crystallize?
We hope to announce first partnerships later this year.
There’s a lot of focus on sustainability at the NIA…
Stainability is something that’s been very important to us from day one as we’ve started design of the airport and we’ve been quite vocal about our ambition to operate the airport on a net zero emissions basis, which essentially means that the energy we consume to operate the airport infrastructure, to operate the vehicles in the airport, that this energy will be provided from CO2 neutral sources. Specifically in terms of measures — there’s a a lot of passive measures in place, a lot of design measures in place, use of materials, use of natural lighting. There are some architectural measures where we’ve been able to sort of use for multiple purposes.